Snippet: Orange zone

She poked her head round the door. “You wanted to see me?”

“Close the door behind you.” McBride barely looked away from his monitor. “Sit down, give me a minute.”

The office was small and stuffy, lined by shelves bursting with thick binders. Micah wondered if her boss even knew what was in those binders. There was no way he filled all of them himself. But he was the stuff of legends around this place, part of the furniture now. The varnish on his desk was wearing away at the edges. The permanent coffee ring beside his stuffed rolodex was just too perfect.

Micah’s shifted uncomfortably in her chair. It creaked. Her hand brushed against where the paint had come away on the frame, leaving bare patches of metal that slowly rusted. She had adopted one particular patch as her own. Whenever a lecture kicked off, she’d trace its outline to keep her fingers busy so her mind wouldn’t wander.

McBride didn’t look happy when he finally got to her. He looked as weary as his desk and her chair. He looked like he could have filled those binders after all.

“Here we are again.” He spoke slowly, deliberately. “Look, Micah, I’ll level with you. With stats like these, there won’t be much I can do once they start letting people go.”

The outline was different today. A little bigger with a change in shape. Someone else had picked at it since she last sat here. A new thread was loose in the upholstery fabric. It tickled her wrist as she searched for a new rust patch to occupy herself.

“Hey, cheer up, you’re not getting fired today.” McBride leaned forward. “Listen, your survey scores are pretty good. If you can stay orange for a few weeks, I might be able to work something out, all right?”

It was all well and good for the boss to offer, but she had been busting her ass for weeks to get her call stats up. It followed her home. More recently, she started waking up with a sore jaw from grinding her teeth in her sleep. She couldn’t help it if the customers were hard of hearing, or called up on a bad line, or needed every little thing explained. No way could she get to orange, let alone stay there.

But there wasn’t anywhere else she could do. Not with Shelby’s buying up all the support agencies in town. She needed this. She hated it but needed it. Even if she ran out of teeth.

Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, Sleeper. Img via ronaldo (CC0).

Snippet: Run

Outside, it stormed. Rain fell hard on the house and the iron sheet roof of the shed next door. Micah was awake when she heard the voice again.

Run, it said, as a bolt from the clouds lit the horizon. Thunder followed. The clock in the hall struck one in the morning.

Her boozey veil was lifting, but the headache kept her pinned to the bed. She squinted against it and tried to keep reading, but in no time, her eyes forced themselves shut.

They opened again in time to stop the book from falling on her face. It was late. She was delirious.

Run, it repeated. She turned off the lamp and curled under her blanket, only just aware of the new resolve burning in her belly. Solid and foreign, unfamiliar.

In the morning, she snuck out before sunrise and ran. Past the house with the broken fence. Over the still highway and down five blocks into the empty school The air was crisp and damp, filled with the sound of her shoes hitting the pavement and then soft lawn.

The grass was a treasure on her feet. They were already aching, confined within her slab-soled Chuck Taylors, the closest thing to running shoes she owned.

She ran across the football field, out the other side and back onto the sidewalk, passing street after street before turning down a long alley with two tracks worn in the grass.

The birds were silent. A wind picked up. The pounding in her chest drowned out her footsteps as she passed panel after panel of corrugated fence; the wall between her and the world.

Up ahead, a hobo mattress lay propped up against a pile of old boxes. Anyone could be hiding there. Her heartbeat tightened into fear; the hood of her jacket became hands on her back. She remembered grandma’s warnings about bad men taking children away if they ran off by themselves. She remembered the story in the paper last week about a girl’s body found in a secluded alley. What was she doing here, alone, in this neighbourhood?

“She asked for it,” they would say, as they pull her, pale and broken, from beneath a sheet of cardboard.

But the voice spoke again: Run.

Excerpt from my Nanowrimo 2017 WIP, “Sleeper”.